“A woman was clear about her wishes before she had a stroke — in the case of a serious medical event, she did not want a feeding tube. She had even expressed her wishes in an advance directive, years before her stroke.”
There are two sad parts to this story. The first was that the family panicked and had a feeding tube put in, despite their mother’s wishes. The second, says WRAL in the article “Advance directives lift burden of tough decisions at end of life,” was that after the woman died several years later, her family found the advance directive.
Without knowing about a loved one’s wishes for their end-of-life care, it’s hard to honor them. That’s why documentation, like advance directives, are so important. So is telling your family where your important legal documents are.
What is an advance directive?
An advance directive is a broad legal term that can include a few different documents, but mostly includes a Health Care Proxy or, depending on your state, a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney. These documents give a person the ability to express what medical care they want and don’t want.
Cases like the women mentioned earlier highlight the importance of this kind of document. While her advance directive was misplaced, many people don’t have them at all. These are important to address non-financial end-of-life issues, both for the person and for their families.
Most people would prefer not to have life-prolonging measures implemented. Without this document, the decision to remove a breathing machine or a heart machine can be even more difficult for a spouse or a child. The burdens are not just emotional.
If there is no decision maker named and family members disagree about what their loved one would have wanted, a battle may break out in the family that results in a court fight.
A few notes on advance directives:
- They can be created at any time, but most people tend to consider them at midlife or close to retirement.
- The document can be amended at any time and should be reassessed through the course of life.
- One decision maker should be appointed to avoid arguments.
Health care agents, doctors and loved ones should all be provided with copies, and the originals should be accessible. Some people put them on the refrigerator, so first responders can find them quickly.
Talk with your estate planning attorney about including an advance directive such as a health care proxy among your estate planning documents. This is a burden that you can make lighter for those you love.
Reference: WRAL (Sep. 18, 2019) “Advance directives lift burden of tough decisions at end of life”